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Archive for April, 2007

Cyborgs!

Haraway brings up a rather interesting topic of cyborgs in her essay, “A Manifesto for Cyborgs”. She defines cyborgs as “a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (2269). Haraway focuses on cyberfeminism, feminism and “technosceince” or the role of technology deeply ingrained in human life, in a postmodern society. What I first found to be interesting is Haraway, like Butler, wishes for a world without gender. She states how the cyborg “is a creature in a post-gender world” (2270) with no origin. Thus, the cyborg forms a society of its own that is not based on unity. This leaves room to live without gender or placing things in categories with its main focus being on difference.

Jumping a little in Haraway’s essay, I found it interesting how she focuses on the role of women in the labor force and their jobs in technology industries. In discussing “The Homework Economy” Haraway states,

many women’s lives have been structured around employment in electronics-dependent jobs, and their intimate realities include serial heterosexual monogamy, negotiating childcare, distance from extended kin or most other forms of traditional community, a high likelihood of loneliness and extreme economic vulnerability as they age” (2286).

It seems to me that Haraway is trying to stress here that women are holding the role of the husband and wife in a family. Not only are they the sole provider, but they are the taking care of the children as well. This reminded me of a video I watching in my AMS class about Haitian women working in factories making money in order to provide for their families with sexual favors in return. When she says, “teenage women in industrializing areas of the third world increasingly find themselves the sole or major source of a cash wage for their families, while access to land is ever more problematic” (2287). Because women are crucial to the technology industry, and being a “cyberfeminist”, Haraway sees the cyborg as a way of bringing women to a new level based on their importance. I think she stresses this most when she focuses on the difficulty “women of color” have in the work force. Not only are black men underemployed but so are the black women and Haraway states, “many more women and men will contend with similar situations which will make cross-gender and race alliances on issues of basic life support necessary, not just nice” (2289).

If I’m on track here I think she’s mostly pushing for a world without gender because of the role of technology in out lives. Shes discusses more than once how robots will take over all the jobs of man and this becomes even more threatening to women who have enough trouble finding jobs. The cyborg seems to be Haraway’s escape from this type of society, a creation of part human part machine, essentially starting a new form of political action due to the role of technology in the world. Other parts of this essay were a little confusing to me. I’m still a little unclear about how C3I has any relevance.

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Baudrillard…Simulacrum

Baudrillard’s essay really acted as a continuation of what Horkheimer and Adorno were saying. Being that he was largely influenced by their writing, he too focuses on the influence film, TV, and advertising as replacing reality which in turn leads culture into a “hyperreality” where the distinction between real and imagined is lost. On page 1732 he is explaining simulation and states, “It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal”. (The absence of a center? Derrida? Please NO!) He explains this loss of reality with the term simulacrum which is represented by the idea that the sign has taken over the signified.

He sees society as taken over by desires and those desires are what create simulacra which in turn are really just a representation of what is missing rather than what is supposedly being replaced. The media comes into play here as feeding our culture with these desires that recreate the signs of reality to replace what is actually real. What I think Baudrillard is enforcing here is that signs are no longer representing the real signified, but rather representing an entirely new form of reality while what is truly real is no longer existent. What I’m trying to say sounds all really confusing but it sort of makes sense in my head, just for the record.

Simulation plays a large role in this according to Baudrillard. Simulation in comparison to dissimulation is “to feign to have what one hasn’t” (1733) so it’s as if the imitation or replacement of something is forced into existence through thought, where as with dissimulation reality is still in place and it is simply imitated rather than completely replaced. Baudrillard’s example of God as simulacra makes things a little clearer,

this facility they have of effacing God from the consciousness of men, and the overwhelming, destructive truth which they suggest: that ultimately there has never been any God, that only the simulacrum exists, indeed that God himself has only ever been his own simulacrum. Had they been able to believe that images only occulted or masked the Platonic Idea of God, there would have been no reason to destroy them. One can live with the idea of a distorted truth. But their metaphysical despair came from the idea that the images concealed nothing at all, and that in fact they were not images, such as the original model would have made them, but actually perfect simulacra forever radiant with their own fascination.

In this case the idea of God as a simulacrum of himself is all just a replacement, with respect to the belief in God. This example seems to be used as an example of the sign overruling the signified, taking over and recreating reality with different signs.

While the things Baudrillard is discussing relate back to Horkheimer and Adorno some of these ideas can get a little mixed up and confusing also. The example as Disneyland as its own imaginary place for adults to recreate childhood is really interesting for me too. Baudrillard confused me a bit when he states, “The Disneyland imaginary is neither true nor false; it is a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate in reverse the fiction of the real” (1741). To rejuvenate in reverse the fiction of the real seems to be contradicting itself and he begins to lose me here. I understand his point that these magical worlds of fiction are meant to give adults the opportunity to keep the child inside in their lives, but I feel like there is something else he’s aiming for here and I don’t know if I’m really getting it?!

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Horkheimer and Adorno would definitely argue that movie-goers tend to make film an extension of their lives forced on them by the culture industry. They state in their essay, “The whole world is made to pass through the filter of the culture industry” (1226). A large focus of their essay is how films have turned into a system forced on people or “victims” according to Horkheimer and Adorno. I really get the feeling that they are trying to stress that film is everywhere. Novels can become films, cartoons can become films, and essentially anything can be turned into a film.

Horkheimer and Adorno stress the role of power and technology in the culture industry. With technology and someone with all the power many things would be impossible, entertainment, or film, is one of those things. They state, “The public is catered for with a hierarchical range of mass-produced products of varying quality” (1225). The possibility for producing such entertainment is essentially what begins to take over peoples lives;

The need which might resist central control has already been suppressed by the control of the individual consciousness. The step from the telephone to the radio has clearly distinguished the roles. The former still allowed the subscriber to play the role of subject, and was liberal. The latter is democratic: it turns all participants into listeners and authoritatively subjects them to broadcast programs which are all exactly the same. (1224)

Horkheimer and Adorno would say that people play as part of this system of the culture industry. They raise the idea that such entertainment isn’t formed to satisfy the wishes of the public but is produced only to suck them all in. This is where the concept of people only as customers and employees, according to the industry, comes into play. Horkheimer and Adorno explain this in the following way:

As employees, men are reminded of the rational organization and urged to fit in like sensible people. As customers, the freedom of choice, the charm of novelty, is demonstrated to them on the screen or in the press by means of the human and personal anecdote. In either case they remain objects. (1234)

These guys are really trying to stress the duplication that is present in the entertainment industry and how it takes control of the public’s lives. For me it all really comes down to selling it to the public. The industry’s only focus is to take control by making people believe the things they enforce which will then lead to them making all the money they are looking for. I think this is why Horkheimer and Adorno have such a problem with the culture industry and their influence on the public. I found their discussion about laughter very interesting, “Their is laughter because there is nothing to laugh at” (1231). I really like how they see laughter as a substitution for fear. When someone senses fear or danger they cover it up with laughter. I often view laughter as a way of getting around things. Someone laughs at something they are unable to do or laughs at something trying to be covered up.

Doesn’t laughter make us all happier? Laughter  Side Note: Laughter yoga…It is contra-indicated for people suffering from uncontrolled high blood pressure, heart disease, epilepsy, any kind of hernia, severe backache and major psychiatric disorders. (may not be suitable for everyone.) Shouldn’t laughter work to cure everyone? Horkheimer and Adorno would disagree…

No matter what it may be laughter can always act as a substitute because it’s something everyone tends to relate to and enjoy, but what do Hork-Adorno say?

In a false society laughter is a disease which has attacked happiness and is drawing it into the worthless totality. To laugh at something is to deride it, and the life which…in laughter breaks through the barrier, is actually an invading barbaric life…Such a laughing audience is a parody of humanity (1231).

For Horkheimer and Adorno, laughter is yet another way to suck people into the world of the culture industry. All of these things that are around us everyday that these theorists see as controlling our lives are things that make life normal to us. This made this essay puzzling for me, because although films may create an alternate reality and laughter may act as a cover for what is actually present, they are things that bring entertainment to life (while sucking the money from out hands). I think the main reason we buy into this cultural entertainment is for its ability to substitute what we should be doing into something we would rather do, we watch a movie rather than do work.

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Margaret Cho

First let me say that Margaret Cho is the best. I absolutely loved watching her stand up comedy and the faces she made to imitate her mother had me dieing. On the other hand, in relation to theory, she constantly addresses the issues of race gender and sexuality in society. I often found myself thinking, did these things really happen to this woman? And are we laughing at her expense? but it was just too funny for me to refrain.

Foucault would have a celebration at her ability to tell all about sex. She loves to joke about her sexual encounters and call herself a slut as well as discussing the issues surrounding gays and lesbians. She even made the remark that she’s a “heterophobe” and describes many of her male relations ending in destruction, in a funny way of course. I immediately thought of Butler when she was talking about being raised by Drag Queens and how she learned everything she knows from them. Butler’s essay discusses drag queens as being offensive to women where as Margaret Cho sees drag queens as role models. I also found it interesting how she said all her friends were gay men, and she also learned things from them, they gave her advice with men and they were a basis of example for her, hence her being a “fag hag”. According to Butler, shouldn’t her basis of gender come from other women rather than from drag queens and gay men?? These things made it really interesting to consider Butler because the gender performance she discusses in her essay doesn’t really seem to be something Margaret follows very closely.

She raises really relevant points about the medias influence on gender, sexuality, and race when she discusses everything she went through just to have a show about herself. The best part about this was when she says that someone asked her why, if the show is about her, why did she have to conform to what the media viewed as appropriate. She uses many cultural references in her comedy to stress her points and she strongly enforces them in describing her life experiences. She addresses the issue of race when she tells us that she was told she wasn’t Asian enough, as if it’s something she can control or turn on and off. This made me immediately think of the stereotypes places on races and she brings up the point of not playing the violin. Society imposes certain things on people of every race and then expects them to uphold those stereotypes. She loves to address cultural ignorance’s and does a great job at making these things hilarious.

I would really like to know what Butler would say about the issues Cho raises of failing to meet the social norm of the body whether it is a female, a gay or lesbian, or an Asians body? She can really make you laugh and at the same time get you thinking about a distortion of what is portrayed as norms in our society. In addressing things like heterosexuality, homosexuality, drag queens, race and societies ignorance to all of these things she makes it so incredibly funny!

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I could grasp much of what Butler was addressing in her essay Gender Trouble, but often found myself confused as to what things were specifically her ideas. She asks a lot of questions and I didn’t always feel as though she addressed those questions, but she does quote Foucault a lot and his idea of genealogy. I then looked her up on wikipedia to get a little more information on her.

Making not of what I new confused me I then resorted to consulting Barry which slightly helped expand what Butler is trying to say. Butler brings up the concept of inside and outside in relation to homosexuality and heterosexuality. In her essay she is specifically discussing the hegemonic view of homosexuality as dangerous and polluting with regard to the presence of AIDS. She states, “Similarly, the ‘polluted’ status of lesbians, regardless of their low-risk status with respect to AIDS, brings into relief the dangers of their bodily exchanges. Significantly, being “outside” the hegemonic order does not signify being “in” a state of filthy and untidy nature” (2494).

Barry helps clear this up a bit…From what I gathered, He says, in using this concept of inside/outside, Butler is pointing out that the label being either gay or straight is only placing restrictions and gives reason for oppression. “Hence, it might be argued, she says, that the concept of homosexuality is itself part of homophobic (anti-gay) discourse, and indeed, the term ‘homosexual’ is a medical-legal one, first used in 1869 in Germany, and preceding the invention of the corresponding term ‘heterosexual’ by eleven years” (Barry, 144). Butler also explains the inner and outer in her essay in relation to the “other”, or “that which has been expelled from the body, discharged as excrement” (2494).

Her explanation of inner and outer is as follows,

“What constitutes through division the “inner” and “outer” worlds of the subject is a border and boundary tenuously maintained for the purposes of social regulation and control. The boundary between the inner and outer is confounded by those excremental passages in which the inner effectively becomes outer, and this excreting function becomes, as it were, the model by which other forms of identity-differentiation are accomplished. In effect, this is the mode by which Others become shit” (2495).

This is what ties in her idea of that trouble with gender is that they are only imitations of something that there is no original for, “Gender can be neither true nor false, neither real nor apparent, neither original nor derived” (2501). So this leaves me with the question of, Where then is this concept of gender, how women and men are supposed to act and what they are destined to, come from? And how does Drag and cross-dressing really tie into this, other than as a form of entertainment?! And to finish it off, heres a little clip of Butler in action…

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The faculty reading at the English Symposium really got me thinking about Foucault and his celebration, if you will, of deviance. I was surprised at the faculty readings and their vast relation to Foucault’s stress of bringing sex into discourse. Foucault states,

“…the nearly infinite task of telling–telling oneself and another, as often as possible, everything that might concern the interplay of innumerable pleasures, sensations, and thoughts which, through the body and the soul, had some affinity with sex. This scheme for transforming sex into discourse had been devised long before in an ascetic and monastic setting” (1650).

And this is just what those professors did, they told, told everyone something that brought sex into discourse. Not ever having Hollis Seamon or Barbara Ungar as professors made their readings a surprise to me, while from professors that I have had before, Doug, Professor Laity and Dan Nester, and heard them discuss these various topics. Knowing them as professors and experiencing classes with them made their readings a little different for me than the others. Foucault would screech at my last sentence and shun me I’m sure because I’m viewing their readings or “discursive” practices and acting surprised at their reference to sex or questioning it at all.

I must say Foucault would have been astonished at each of the faculty members and their use of sex in discourse, “…its aspects, its correlations, and its effects…down to their slenderest ramifications: a shadow in a daydream, an image too slowly dispelled, a badly exorcised complicity between the body’s mechanics and the mind’s complacency: everything had to be told” (1649). Foucault really loves the idea of getting it all out their and letting the mind make of it what it will. I found that Dan Nester’s reading really did that. He read an essay from a book he’s writing and it was about an ex of his who allowed a man to lick her feet for ten dollars. He went in depth making just imagining such an act explicitly sexual and how she could now be seen as a foot prostitute. Clearly Nester used this deviant act of foot licking and wrote this essay free of any judgment based on its relation to sex, specifically using the act of foot licking, possibly prostitution, as a sexually detailed narration.

It was interesting for me how for once I could attend a reading and take Foucault and his essay on “The History of Sexuality” and relate the two. If the faculty readings all had in common their reference to sex one, who has not read Foucault, may think…what does that say about society or the professor at St. Rose? But most importantly for those of us who have read Foucault and have the opportunity of using his ideas to address such readings can stress his focus on the importance of writers telling all their is with out worrying whether or not it is sexually explicit or not. If what they write makes any type of connection to sex then so be it because contesting the use of sex in discourse just places too many restraints on society.

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